Indiana legal community mourns deaths of 2 attorneys

IL Staff
March 12, 2014
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The Indiana legal community recently mourned the deaths of two well-known attorneys, Stephen Johnson and the Rev. Thomas Murphy.

Johnson, the former executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, passed away unexpectedly March 2. Johnson was with the organization for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2011.

johnson-stephen-15col Stephen Johnson (IL file photo)

Johnson was admitted to practice in 1973 after graduating from Indiana University Maurer School of Law and began his tenure at IPAC in August of that year. He joined the organization before it was a state-funded agency, which occurred in 1974. He started as a research director before becoming executive director in 1997.

Before attending law school, Johnson received a bachelor’s degree in zoology in 1970 from Michigan State University.  

As leader of IPAC, Johnson served as a representative of prosecutors statewide. David Powell, who took over as executive director after Johnson’s retirement, said Johnson’s death was sudden and unexpected.

Johnson served on several legislative committees, educated and mentored prosecutors, and helped rewrite the Indiana penal code. One of his most significant achievements was to help implement a statewide computer system linking state and local offices in the criminal justice system.

Johnson remained on contract as a consultant with IPAC, working on sentencing reform issues. He was among about 20 people in a legislative committee meeting Feb. 27 on the topic.

Johnson was held in extremely high regard by the state’s prosecutors, who saw him as the top criminal law scholar in Indiana, and it’s like a member of our family has passed, Powell said.

“I had one prosecutor say to me it was like Superman died,” Powell said.

In 2011, Gov. Mitch Daniels recognized Johnson as a Distinguished Hoosier. He also has been recognized by the Indiana Supreme Court for his years in service and, in 1998, was honored with the Eugene “Shine” Feller Award, given by Indiana’s prosecutors to those with distinguished service in their field.

Johnson is survived by his wife, Susie Johnson; children Brian (Elizabeth) Johnson, Glenn (Leigh Anne) Johnson, Marni (Craig) Steinfort, and Matt Johnson; grandchildren Elyse, Christopher, Caroline, Rachel, Luke, Nicholas, Alexander and Keira; sister, Janice Johnson; and aunt, Audree Wentworth.

Murphy, an Indianapolis attorney who left the practice of law to become a priest, died Feb. 28 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 82.

“He was a dear, dear friend,” said Nancy Gargula, U.S. Trustee for Region 10 and Region 13. “He embraced everyone of all faiths and he nurtured everyone to make the most of every day and give back.”

murphy-tom-15col.jpg Rev. Thomas Murphy (Photo courtesy of The Criterion)

Murphy graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1954 and the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 1961. He practiced law for 19 years at Hilgedag Johnson Secrest and Murphy in Indianapolis.

He entered politics, serving one term in the Indiana House of Representatives in 1965-1966 and running in the Democratic primary for Indiana Attorney in 1968.

During a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Murphy said he received the call from God and turned from practicing law to being a priest.

Murphy was studying for the priesthood when Gargula began practicing as a young lawyer. They met at the Notre Dame Club of Indianapolis, where Murphy served as chaplain for several years, and developed a friendship over their common love for music.

He was an accomplished pianist and organist who played regularly at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Indianapolis and once for Pope John Paul II at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Murphy persuaded Gargula to cantor for the Sunday evening Mass at his parish, St. Joan of Arc. Prior to the service, the two would often sit in the small outdoor garden and talk. Gargula remembered Murphy being especially supportive during a time when her daughter was having difficulties.

Ordained in 1985, Murphy served at St. Lawrence and Christ the King parishes as well as at St. Joan of Arc and St. John the Evangelist. His work as the archdiocesan representative in the Ecumenical and Interfaith areas made him known well beyond the legal and Catholic communities.

Indianapolis Community Court Judge David Certo was a young man considering the pastoral life when he met Murphy. The two developed a life-long friendship.

“Father Tom and I loved Notre Dame, manhattans and a good meal,” Certo said. “Those three topics gave us ample excuses to get together.”

Certo decided to study the law and remembered one time as an attorney, he was asked by a friend to handle a divorce. Deeply torn by the request that went against his Catholic beliefs, Certo asked Murphy for advice. Murphy said that Certo had to help his friend.

“That was terrific practical and pastoral advice,” Certo said.

Even after he became a priest, Murphy maintained his ties to the law. He was a member of the Indianapolis and Indiana State Bar associations and always attended the annual Red Mass. Members of the St. Thomas More Society recognized Murphy with the Man for All Seasons award, the highest honor the society can give recognizing character, courage and conviction.

Gargula said Murphy had a gift for instantly connecting with everyone he met and making friends easily.

Murphy’s ability to cultivate friendships impressed Patrick Olmstead, Greenwood attorney and president of the St. Thomas More Society of Indianapolis. Olmstead said whenever he spoke with Murphy, the priest would make him feel like the most important person in the room.

As his disease progressed, Murphy lost his ability to play the piano, became confined to a wheelchair, and struggled to speak. Olmstead remembered that through the hardships, Murphy was never bitter nor did he ever complain. He kept his dignity, remained humble and truly enjoyed being around other people.

“He was a real special guy,” Olmstead said.

Murphy is survived by his brother, Robert O. Murphy Sr. (Eileen) of Granger, Ind; and 18 nieces and nephews.•


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.